It has been quite a while since Patriots fans have felt the pain of a “Finkle is Einhorn” kicking situation.
Actually, it was right around the time of the release of that movie, Ace Ventura Pet Detective, which gave birth to that famous scene. That was the last time the Patriots were unsettled with their kicker. Scott “Missin” Sisson was the Patriots kicker at the time and he was about 20 pegs below old Ray Finkle on the popularity chart around these parts in 1993.
Sisson never saw an NFL kick he couldn’t miss. Sporting a 53.8 percent field goal percentage in 1993, he often slammed the brakes on any of the momentum the rebuilding Patriots could muster during Bill Parcells’ first year as head coach. I was there, every game and remember those helpless feelings very clearly.
Stephen Gostkowski is no Scott Sisson. He’s been damn solid and at the top of his class in most seasons since his arrival in 2006 but I’d be flat out lying if I didn’t say he’s making me uneasy these days. His overall trajectory in the last year or so has been dipping downward, showing a subtle uptick in both missed and askew kicks that we had previously seen him smack dead center for years prior. Those instances are becoming more frequent too, the whole process looks off and has for about a year now.
In terms of field goals, the stats right now are fine.
So far this season Gostkowski has made six of his seven attempts, good for 85.7 percent which is nearly at his career mark of 87.4 percent. His lone miss was between 40-49 yards which is forgivable, particularly given his stellar track record, but what’s up with the missed extra points?
Gostkowski has missed three PATs so far in just three games, a pattern that was absolutely unthinkable anytime from 2006 to 2017. The last year or so though, it’s frankly less surprising. Stats are one thing, but what do your eyes tell you?
Something is off.
In 2018 Gostkowski missed five field goals, making just 27 of 32 attempts for a field goal [ercentage of 84.3 percent, well below his career average. Comparatively in 2017, Gostkowski made 37 of 40 attempts good for a 92.5 percent field goal percentage while making 10 more kicks that season too, which is significant. From 2013-2015 Gostkowski was kicking with a success rate well over 90 percent in each of those seasons; 92.7 percent in 2013, 95 percent in 2014 and 91.6 percent in 2015 respectively. Beyond the stats though, the actual path of the kicks have added an element of drama to them according to my eyeballs, make or miss.
Until the last year, my vision of a Gostkowski kick was a hard and straight shot right through the center of the uprights. His kicks looked strong and forceful whether pounding the net on a chip shot extra point or sailing true from 40 to 50 yards out. His kicks were straight and true. Lately (and by lately I mean in the last year or so), Gostkowski has developed an inconsistent fade on most kicks along with a quick and sudden yank on too many others, like the extra points. During this directional change, like a golfer searching to find consistency, I’ve seen him line up field goals at different hash marks. This is akin to a golfer with a slice, playing into the slice with a misaligned stance. Not a great plan. It’s better to try to correct the slice, as tedious and difficult as that can be, it’s really the right approach. Take it from a 30 year slicer…
The inconsistencies that even a great golfer can cope with offer the best comparison to the life of an NFL kicker. Perhaps there is something physical with Gostkowski that has altered his approach. Perhaps having a new holder one season removed from one of his most inconsistent seasons is having an impact. Or perhaps he has a case of the yips. I haven’t seen him on an injury report that I can recall and I’ve seen enough variations of his kicks to make me think the problem is in his head.
Gostkowski has the yips.
With a team positioned beautifully for another legitimate Super Bowl run this year and seemingly a couple more after this season, this is a problem that needs to be solved and solved before it becomes “a something.” Am I the only one who was one-part relieved and one-part pleasantly surprised that Gostkowski hit that 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIII? It was more nerve racking than it needed to be, that much is certain.
For those of you who question the validity of this or who would label me as an alarmist, just listen to any former player who is currently a color analyst or a postgame analyst of NFL football. When a kicker misses a kick you can literally hear the disdain pouring out of their collective souls. The anguish and fatigue from missed kicks after hard gained yardage lives deep inside every down players. There’s no way you can make a case that it doesn’t matter to the teammates on the field, scrapping for every inch they can get, then getting no reward. For the non-believers, seek out a few Buffalo Bills fans during this weekend’s tilt and ask them what they think. Scott Norwood isn’t a name they forget.
In conclusion, I vividly recall listening to former Patriot Tim Fox doing postgame on the old Patriots broadcast on WBCN back in 1993. Fox was extolling the virtues of Patriots Kicker Matt Bahr after helping the Patriots win a game. Fox said in the aftermath… “And finally…we have a kicker.” After too many games of frustration, Parcells brought in the old and reliable Matt Bahr from his Giants glory days to replace “Missin Sisson” and the prequel to the Patriots dynasty was born. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter. If it mattered to a killer like Fox and a Hall of Famer like Parcells it should matter to you too.
Again, it’s time to solve those yips, before it becomes something you will most certainly want to forget.